Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Family Solanaceae Harvest

I planted heavily from the nightshade family this year. Nothing beats homegrown tomatoes of course, and I have put up 20 quarts of tomatoes and eaten enough fresh ones to turn my innards deep red. This year was also the first year I tried to grow potatoes to a significant degree. I was interested to see if my new techique of mounding up beds would help with potatoes, and boy was I astounded. The same mound that grew huge hubbard squash last year delivered large, beautiful red and gold potatoes. Peppers also did ok, though the bed I put them in was not as good as the ones I used for potatoes and the results showed. Even so, I still had enough poblanos to keep my Sunday eggs warm and spicy.

This year has been rewarding in several ways. The wet spring revived a blackberry bush I thought I had lost. It came back from it's roots with unbelievable growth and still managed to crank out blackberries like crazy. My first year's production of raspberries is small, but good enough to give hope for the future. Currants, grapes and strawberries have been topping my morning cereal for much of the summer and now blackberries are filling the role nicely. It has been a good garden year.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fueling Up for the Winter

As summer draws to a close, it is time to fuel up for the winter. As I wander in my yard, I see creatures big and small desperately fueling up from the largesse brought by long days and the miracle of photosynthesis. Soon, my favorites, the hummingbirds will head south, with reserves of fat fueled by nectar from flowers in my yard and others. Bees and other hymenoptera, are the most conspicuous feeders this time of year, as their numbers max out and the term “busy as a bee” aligns perfectly with the reality you see in nature.

Butterflies, dragonflies, hawkmoths, hoverflies and just about every other creature feast and mate, mate and feast, eat and get eaten, and pay little attention to the big, clumsly, bi-pedal hominid harvesting his own largesse. I fuel up as well. I look to this time of year to maximize the quality of nutrition my body will receive. Fresh, pesticide free tomatoes, grapes, blackberries, beets, beans, soybeans, peppers, squash, etc. add levels of nutrition that will be hard to replicate in winter. So hopefully, like the hummingbirds, I will have enough stores to make it through another winter.

Though hummers will hang out in Mexico, my hangout will be in my man-cave downstairs, with my remote in hand, watching football (go Utes) or other things sedentary, waiting for the seasonal change to longer days and a return to the flourish of life in my outdoor abode. I hope the quality and quantity of fuel will get through another winter. More people perish in winter than other times of year. There are reasons for this. So making it to another spring is a celebration of survival. But for now, I will join my fellow eukaryotes, and follow the patterns tread since the dawn of time.

One of the joys of being human is the blessing of a life expectancy that allows us the privilege of watching the seasonal cycles many times. And enjoy each cycle we must, for we never know when this will be our last summer, or fall, spring, or winter. So I’ll savor every garden fresh tomato. There is no guarantee I’ll be enjoying them next year. But if I eat enough of them and other nutritionally rich foods, I hope to increase the probability, that this won’t be my last re-fueling for the winter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Death of Columbo

No, I'm not talking about Peter Falk. I'm talking about plastic containers that used to hold Columbo brand yogurt. General Mills no longer continued with their Columbo brand and stopped distributing it in Utah a long time ago. However, Columbo has been an integral part of my garden now for nearly a decade.

When we first moved into our house, we used just about every resource we had to get a down payment. Shortly after, my wife quit her job and we struggled financially for many years. So landscaping was done on the cheap, with me growing perennials and even shrubs and trees from seed, starting in my basement under grow lights. Once seedlings grow their first true leaves, it is time to transplant them into a little pot. It just so happened, that Columbo yogurt containers were the perfect size. And over the years, through attrition, more and more of my Columbo containers broke, were lost, accidently discarded, etc. The last one I had, housed a beautiful Utah Penstemon (Penstemon utahensis), and after removing the penstemon and placing it in the ground, the Columbo container finally succumbed to wear and tear and crumbled.

I wonder how many plants found their first secondary leaves in this old Columbo container? Probably atleast 8 or 9. Some of those plants probably succumbed to various forms of death, such as a dog's trampling, or an excessively cold winter. Perhaps a late frost killed one or two. But as it found it's way to the garbage, I hope atleast a few of it's former residents are still residents of my yard. Perhaps they have descendents volunteering here and there.

Even so, Columbo may not have worked out for General Mills, but their containers worked out well for me. Yoplait containers don't cut it for planters with their bottoms wider than their tops. Some of the cheap yogurt brands still dot my planting apparaturs, but none did as well as Columbo. So to Columbo, I say adieu. I don't remember whether the yogurt it contained was any good or not. But I do know, that seedlings do well in just that amount of potting soil. So Columbo, thanks for the greenery.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Plant Profile- Salvia darcyi

I found an interesting plant last year in Tooele Valley Nursery under the name "Red Mountain Sage." It's scientific name is "Salvia darcyi", and most reports I've seen show the flower as only hardy through to zone 8, though I've seen one report of it making it through a zone 6. Being at zone 5, I'll be interested to see if it comes back. If it doesn't I did atleast gather a good batch of seeds which I now am growing in my basement. This sage is a quick growing plant, that grows tall and is an impressive hummingbird magnet. So even if last year's plants don't make it, I should have an abundance of them this year. (In the picure above, Salvia darcyi is being visited by a female broad-tailed hummingbird)
This salvia is native to the high mountain ridges of the Sierra Madre in Mexico. My experience with many of these southern sages that live in the mountains, is that they are often hardier than we think. I have had success with Salvia lemmonii as well as Salvia pinguifolia here in the cold great basin desert valley of Tooele. The tops completely die off, but from the root crown comes new and rapid growth that sends the plant two feet high and loaded with flowers. Salvia pinguifolia, a beautiful blue flowered salvia is a very popular nectar source for honeybees right up till the frost, providing valuable stores for these bees during their long winter months. Salvia lemmonii provides excellent blooms into the fall, helping south migrating hummingbirds. I'm hoping Salvia darcyi turns out to be much like these other southern sages. My first year experience with this plant was positive. We'll see if it is perennial here in Tooele, or an impressive annual I'll need to grow every year. Time will tell.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gardening Goals

This year, I have some goals I would like to accomplish in my garden and yard. One is to scale back the vegetable portion of my garden, and to concentrate more on creating a small fruit orchard. I’ve found that my family won’t eat much of what I raise, and I can only eat so much veggies. I’m not doing away with veggies, just refocusing a bit on what I raise. Plants I will consider planting this year include:
Hardy kiwi

Vegetables I still plan on growing include:

Tomatoes and peppers
Summer and Winter Squash
Green Beans (pole)
Swiss Chard

I overgrew winter squash last year, and I’ll never get all of it eaten. I plan on one hill of butternut, and that is it. Greens, beets and carrots can be planted together and don’t take up much room, and I’ve had good success with pole beans climbing large tomato cages with some twine added to the ribs. And tomatoes and peppers have got to be part of a home garden. Melons? I'm only succeeding 50% on those. I'll see how much room I've got after I've planted the rest.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Cricket Meter

I admit, that I am different than your traditional gardener. I try to create not only a garden that is asthetically appealing, but useful to critters. Lawn is not of much use to insect diversity. Therefore, I plant large amounts of space devoted to native trees, shrubs and perennials. The result is something that is asthetically pleasing to me, but isn't conducive to someone who has a distate for creepy crawlies.

One measure of success I had in appealing to the invertebrate class this last summer, is something I call "the cricket meter." Crickets chirp (rub their legs together) to call to potential mates. How loud and numerous the chirps, the more crickets you have in or near to your yard. I found it fascinating to go for walks after dark in my neighborhood and listen to how loud the crickets are from house to house. Inevitably, the houses with the most perfect and expansive lawns, the quieter it got. Proudly, my yard was a crescendo of cricket chirps, letting me know, atleast one of my gardening goals had a measure of success.

I once had a former neighbor complain to me about the number of bees in my yard. My response was, "if she planted a few more flowers in hers, maybe they'd stay on her side of the fence." She didn't really like my response. It is amazing to me, that with the voluminous number of pollinators I have in my yard, how infrequent bee/wasp stings are. Stings attributable to our native bumblebees? Zero. A periodic yellow jacket sting is just as likely in our neighbor's yard as it is in ours.

Let's learn to live with nature and appreciate it's amazing diversity and beauty. And if you see a gnarly looking caterpillar crawling on your bush, remember, you can't have butterflies if they don't start out as caterpillars.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Hedgerow and Wildlife

One of the things I decided to plant in my yard was a hedgerow for wildlife. This hedgerow provides benefits for the human animal occupants at our address as well. As a wind screen, the hedgerow slows the massive winds we get in the Tooele valley. It also provides cover for birds, insects and spiders. The hedgerow provides many things for wildlife. The bushes and trees in the hedgerow are generally fairly xeric, requiring only minimal amounts of water to keep them healthy. Year after year of leaf litter builds up the soil there creating humous which retains much of the moisture it gets. Below are the list of bushes and trees in the hedge.

Cercocarpus ledifolius- curl-leaf mahagony
Forestiera neomexicana- new mexican privet
Quercus gambellii- gambel oak
Acer grandidentatum- rocky mountain sugar maple
Shepherdia argentea- silver buffalo-berry
Quercus macrocarpa- bur oak
Pinus aristata- bristlecone pine
Cornus sericea- red-twig dogwood

All of these are native to the U.S. and the diversity of food provides for many different species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) as well as insects for birds such as nuthatches, wilson's warbliers, and members of the woodpecker family.